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Sony Xperia 1 III review revisited: The good and bad over two years later
At launch, the Sony Xperia 1 III was an expensive and minorly flawed handset, but one well on the way to fixing up the issues of its predecessor and helping set Sony apart from the rest of the crowd. During our review, the handset earned Android Authority’s coveted Editor’s Choice award, making it one of our preferred picks of 2021. But what about if you’re planning to buy the phone today?
A lot has changed since launch; there’s a whole new assortment of flagship smartphones on the market to give Sony a run for its money. Not to mention newer models from Sony itself. In this Sony Xperia 1 III review revisited, let’s see how the phone holds up and whether it’s still a recommended purchase.
At review, we called the Sony Xperia 1 III an incredibly well-built, feature-packed smartphone that’s undoubtedly Sony’s best handset to date. Despite the launch of the prohibitively expensive, professional-targeted Xperia Pro-I, the Xperia 1 III was the best all-around Sony phone you can buy. Especially if you’re big on the features below:
The Sony Xperia 1 III’s design is as good today as it was at launch and it’s still one of the best-looking and most well-built phones on the market. Providing you’re happy with the slim and tall 21:9 aspect ratio, the aluminum chassis feels terrific in hand, and the design is sleek and streamlined. Its classic good looks will still look great in a few years, let alone a few months.
Although the Xperia is good-looking, it’s the little details that make Sony’s design what it is. You don’t need a finicky tool to open the SIM tray, the phone retains an IP65/IP68 rating, and the aluminum frame and metal feel don’t interfere with the device’s wireless charging capabilities. Then there’s a headphone jack and microSD card shared dual-SIM slot — two features beloved by media enthusiasts that you won’t find on every high-end smartphone.
The Xperia 1 III isn't just a great looking phone, Sony paid plenty of attention to the little details
My Xperia 1 III has taken a bit of a beating on various camera shootouts, which has resulted in a few scratches on the rear. Despite the robust-feeling build, you’ll still want a case for this handset. Fortunately, the Corning Gorilla Glass Victus display protection has held up incredibly well, with nary a scratch despite numerous outings. Overall, the design and build quality continue to be two of the Xperia 1 III’s best features.
A multimedia powerhouse
Of course, one of the big reasons to buy an Xperia phone is the multimedia experience, and over half a year on the market hasn’t changed that. The handset is flush with audio features, including the high-end aptX HD and LDAC Bluetooth codecs, Dolby Atomos, 360 Spacial Sound, and Sony’s DSEE Ultimate upscaling technology. For those more into movies, the 4K HDR display is great but also benefits from Sony’s video image enhancement technology, expansive white balance controls, and a creator mode to support BT.2020 and 10-bit HDR content.
Sony’s Game Enhancer may be more awkwardly presented but there’s a huge range of tweaks and optimization toggles available for avid gamers. Options range from per-game settings for battery or performance prioritization to focus mode to hide notifications and the like, audio and mic settings, screen recording, Dualshock controller support, and even a multi-tasking function to access the web and your other apps while in the middle of a game. Plus, the charging passthrough feature helps to keep temperatures under control for those longer gaming sessions.
Whether you’re into music, film, gaming, or all three, the Xperia 1 III certainly lets you make the most of your multimedia hobbies.
If there’s one thing Sony knows, it’s camera features. The Xperia 1 III is chock-full of dials and toggles to satisfy the more experienced photographer. The Photo Pro app provides the familiar auto, shutter speed, and manual exposure options. You can go as deep as you like here, with toggles for autofocus, auto exposure lock, exposure compensation, ISO, white balance presets, HDR mode, metering, and RAW export. The camera app includes a memory recall feature to save and reload your perfect setup for specific scenarios.
But you don’t have to be a photography wizard to benefit from Sony’s camera prowess. The “Basic” shooting mode offers simplified white balance and exposure controls, artificial bokeh blur, and HDR video recording. There are also continuous HI and LO key burst modes that can take a whopping 20 shots per second. Granted, this might all sound somewhat intimidating to the uninitiated, but housing everything in one place makes it simpler than ever to start dabbling in some more advanced photography techniques at your leisure.
While its age discounts the Xperia 1 III as being one of the best camera phones, it’s still one of the most fun to take out for a photography session. However, I’m not sold on the Cinema Pro experience, as the layout is less user-friendly for those looking to experiment with more advanced video features.
The not so good
While the Xperia 1 III’s camera setup is feature-rich, it’s not the best shooter in terms of image quality across a range of scenarios. Daylight shots look great, and the aforementioned manual features can produce spectacular results in the right hands. However, after prolonged use with the phone, my conclusion is that it hands in results that are far too inconsistent. So it’s not that the phone has a bad camera, and it’s hard to notice the issues in isolation. It’s simply that the Xperia 1 III has a constant problem obtaining the correct exposure in trickier lighting conditions.
The phone’s selfie camera, HDR capabilities, low light, and zoom capabilities aren’t quite up to scratch against the best in the business. That’s a bit of a problem when you’re commanding the same or a higher price tag as the best in the business. That said, the switchable focal length zoom camera is an inspired idea that adds some excellent flexibility to the phone’s repertoire. If you’re interested in how the phone stacks up against the competition, check out our six-way 2021 shootout.
Part of the problem is that Sony is yet to embrace commonplace features among other handsets. For example, there’s no multi-exposure night mode, so shooting in dimmer conditions relies entirely on longer, shake-prone exposures. That’s fine if you carry a tripod, but that’s not how most users shoot with a smartphone. Similarly, the lack of a decent portrait mode often leaves results looking over- or under-exposed, and skin tones are well off the mark as well. Simply put, there are better shooters out there, such as the all-around-excellent Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra.
Our Sony Xperia 1 III received an upgrade to Android 12 in February 2022 and Android 13 rolled out in early 2023, bringing with it a few cosmetic and under-the-hood changes. Unlike other OEMs, Sony directly adopts Google’s new-look Quick Settings tiles, settings icons, and additional white space in the various menus. The update is a bit more Pixel-like than I thought it would be. You’ll also find the same notification tweaks, screenshot-sharing UI, one-handed mode, privacy dashboard, and other core features of Google’s latest OS version.
Not much has changed with Sony’s proprietary apps. As far as I can tell, the Game Enhancer, Camera Pro, Cinema Pro, Music, and other apps are the same as in Android 11. Again, that’s fine, but the experience still feels like Android with an array of Sony apps slapped on top, each with its own UI that doesn’t gel with Material You. It feels like Sony is falling behind compared to the more integrated experience of Samsung’s One UI and the like.
Sony hasn’t improved on its so-so commitment, it “aims to support Xperia 1 III with the latest Android updates for two years after its launch.” That means we’re out of major OS updates, bringing the phone much closer to the end of life. Meanwhile, Samsung supports its Galaxy handsets with four years of OS upgrades, and Google’s Pixels get three.
Static display refresh rate
Locking the display to either 60Hz or 120Hz didn’t bother me when I originally reviewed the Xperia 1 III, but having used some truly excellent variable refresh rate smartphones recently, this missing feature is making the phone age faster than you’d think. I could instantly feel the sluggishness of the default 60Hz rate when turning the phone back on. Although you can flick the panel into 120Hz, the lack of a variable refresh rate means battery life takes a bigger hit than competing handsets.
The 4K OLED display is otherwise still amazing to look at. Colors are bright yet accurate, and there’s a powerful array of display customization features for those who want to tweak things just so. I’m still a fan of the 21:9 aspect ratio, making the phone a more helpful multi-tasker than many. Overall it’s still an excellent display package; it’s just a shame to have to pick between 60Hz or 120Hz when variable refresh rates are now appearing in much more affordable smartphones.
Sony Xperia 1 III review revisited: The verdict
There’s still a lot to love and gripe about with the Xperia 1 III. I still both love and have misgivings about the camera, software, and a number of the little features which ultimately stopped the phone from being a slam-dunk recommendation at launch. While a lot of the phone still holds up well, particularly the design, other aspects are really starting to show their age.
The lack of mmWave 5G, for instance, means the phone is dated in the US. The phone is also still sluggish to charge, and you’ll have to contend with some pre-installed bloatware too. On the positive side, performance is still fair enough even though not cutting edge, the battery easily lasts all day, and there’s a suite of multimedia features for audio, video, and gaming enthusiasts to sink their teeth into.
Six months later: Do you think the Sony Xperia 1 III is still a good buy?
Sony has discounted the handset to $699/£699 (if you can still find it in the US), which is much more fitting for the phone’s age. Those looking for a modern flagship are almost certainly better served by the newer Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra ($1199.99 at Samsung) or Sony’s own Xperia 1 V ($1398 at Amazon). Or, if you’d like to dabble in Apple’s ecosystem, the equally robust and media-oriented iPhone 14 Pro Max ($999 at Amazon).
If you can live with the lack of future updates, the $699 price tag is fair for the hardware on offer. But for non-Sony fans, a little more cash spent on the Google Pixel 7 Pro ($589.98 at Amazon) will last you much longer.